by Nina Shahverdyan
It was a warm sunny morning that day in Stepanakert, one of those when you finally wear a short-sleeved top and mom doesn’t get angry at you― that kind of a sunny morning. I went to school on foot with a classmate of mine, walking through the lively park in the city center, both of us calm and happy, both unaware of what’s going on around. As soon as we entered class, we saw some girls crying and people- in hysteria. Teachers were stressed out. “The war has started,” they said.
The war has started. I didn’t believe that. I couldn’t believe that. The war can’t start in my motherland. It can’t. Not here, not now. Not with me. It was so hard to accept that that I ended up sitting straight and wondering why were all the girls in my class so hysterical. Something happened on the borders, but why would they call it a war? At one point, however, I realized the whole school was mourning, and lots of people were running home. The principal canceled classes after an hour. We were all sent home. “Fast,” she said.
It was April the first, but it wasn’t a joke.
The war couldn’t start. Yet it did.
My memories of the rest of the days are chaotic. The only thing that’s clear in my mind is my mom, cleaning the house and washing the windows.
– The war has started,-I said.
– The house should be clean,- she said.
Back then I couldn’t understand her. Why would she clean a house which potentially could be ruined in a few days? Why would she think about cleaning when there is war outside? The answer is so obvious now. She was cleaning the house because it was the only way for her to continue living as always, to pretend that nothing was happening, to stay calm. She had 4 children looking at her―panicking was not an option. My mom was strong. Unlike me.
The only thing I could do was sit on the couch, crying for every name of a perished soldier.
– We have to go to Yerevan, dad. The war has started.
These were the most foolish words I have ever said in my life. My dad looked at me seriously, if not angry, and said, “The war has started. That’s why we should stay here.” And we stayed, while all of my friends moved to Yerevan and stayed there long after the war had finished, afraid to come, afraid to die.
My eight-year-old brother, who always wanted to become a soldier, told me he changed his mind.
– I don’t want to die, Nina,-he said.
-You should defend your motherland,- I said.
-I don’t want to fight,- he said.
We ended our conversation on that. I was lying on the bed with him, hugging him and trying to tell a fairytale, a happy fairytale. But instead, I was just hugging him tighter and tighter and thinking of a small schoolboy who died that morning because of a bomb.
Children shouldn’t die. Children shouldn’t worry. And yet that was the only thing my brother saw: people in panic. That’s when I decided I don’t want to become president anymore: I abandoned a childhood dream. I had it for 16 years.
I imagined me being the first female president in Armenia, imagined being the first one who will solve the Artsakh issue, imagined being the first to get rid of poverty in the whole country. I had a utopic understanding of politics back then, a strong belief that just one good politician can save a country. I dreamt to be that one politician. I dreamt to see Armenia great again, as great as it was during the era of Tigran Mets, one of the most powerful kings of ancient Armenia. Well, turns out, dreams don’t come true.
I asked my dad why wars happen. He said it’s because of politics. I got sad. Politics have the power to establish peace and yet they choose to end the lives of people whose only guilt is to be of a certain nation.
– I wish our president knew about what would happen,- I said, – he could prepare and stop the Azerbaijanis.
My dad looked at me seriously, if not pitifully. “ All of them knew, Nina, all of them knew.”
Something broke inside of me. Something very special, very important. I didn’t feel complete. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t understand myself. I didn’t understand our presidents. How can a president know that foes will attack and yet do nothing? Why do they call themselves presidents? A president thinks about his country, a president cares.
– How can a person be so cruel, dad? – I asked.- How could they know and still let them do that? How could they know and still not prepare? How could they do that to our country, dad?”
-They didn’t have other options,- he said, -They were forced to.
The truth is, our world is very messed up. You aren’t free. You aren’t independent. It doesn’t matter if you are a teacher at school, a manager in a restaurant or president of a country. There is always somebody more powerful standing above you. It doesn’t matter if your ideas and beliefs are pure. It doesn’t matter that you care and have strong feelings towards something. There is always somebody who benefits from that and for whom you are just a pawn on the chessboard. A pawn he can sell to get more money.
The April War made me reconsider all my decisions. I thought a lot, I suffered a lot on my journey to accepting the reality, but I had to clash with it, didn’t I? The results of my inner exploration brought me to a clear conclusion: I decided not to become a president. The presidency doesn’t give you freedom of action and doesn’t give you the power to change things you don’t like.
Am I running away from my problems? I am. Am I feeling guilty for that? I do. But sometimes saving a country becomes too hard, especially if you are a young girl with very fragile feelings and a strong sense of justice, which is impossible to reach in this world.